In my circle of friends, I’m the one who usually does the cooking.
That’s not a complaint, as chopping, tasting and experimenting all speak to my Zen, as long as I have sufficient time, that is. Another challenge is adding new dishes to the rotation. Time and time again, I seem to revert to the same old recipe rut.
This is when I start thinking about cooking classes to help me expand my repertoire. Fortunately, several of our area’s top chefs are ready to lend a hand, taking time out from their busy cooking lives to assist an amateur like me.
Chuck LaPorta started out as a guest chef at the Cornerstone Coffeehouse and was so well received that he was asked to return often. By 2004, he was the chef-in-residence and has been conducting classes focused around a theme ever since.
For instance, “Relaxing in the Caribbean” might involve menu items like jerk chicken and island paella, and “Springtime in Paris” might be based on five different dishes that one might encounter in France.
For his day job, LaPorta oversees operations in the dietary department of Life Care Hospitals, so you can fairly say that working with food is his passion, an enthusiasm that shows in his classes.
“I’ve been cooking since I was 2 and even had an Easy-Bake Oven,” he said, with a laugh.
After each demonstration, LaPorta offers participants a sample of each of the various dishes that he creates.
“As we roll through the different dishes, everyone gets to eat very well and most people leave full,” he said.
The social aspect is a key part of the fun for LaPorta.
“I love the interaction, the laughing and joking around, watching people make new friendships and the fact that, for three hours, we all can step away from the craziness of the world and really enjoy the food,” he said.
The Cornerstone Coffeehouse is located at 2133 Market St., Camp Hill. To learn about upcoming classes, visit www.thecornerstonecoffeehouse.com/cooking.
A Visit to India
Leena Shenoy, owner of one of Harrisburg’s longest-operating restaurants, has been paving a path towards a greater understanding of India one cooking class at a time. In March, she conducted her 50th class at her Shipoke restaurant.
With the help of a large screen TV, guests observed some of the various techniques she uses to make dishes like fruit chaat, beans poriyal and lemon pepper chicken.
In between stirring and sautéing, Shenoy took the opportunity to share information on where to buy the various products that she uses, explaining how some of them can be beneficial to one’s health.
“In southern India, we believe that coconut is good for cholesterol and can also be used as a beauty treatment,” she said. “It’s good for hair and tightens your skin.”
Shenoy then held up mustard seed, touting its respective health benefits.
“Mustard seed is good for your system when ground into a paste and mixed with honey; it’s a good detox,” she said. “Turmeric is also good as an antibiotic and, when mixed with yogurt and honey, can be used as a facial mask.”
The businesswoman, who lived in New Delhi until the age of 15, offers an explanation why the Indian diet is healthy.
“There are no preservatives in India,” she said. “Vegetables are purchased fresh every day.”
To prove her point, she said that her father is 88 and still plays tennis.
“There is no fatty food, no heavy cream in India,” she said.
After Shenoy added the finishing touches to each dish, she invited the class up to the front table to take turns sampling each of the items while she answered questions, pausing once in a while to make a joke.
One person commented on the pan Shenoy was using.
“Rachael Ray said you should cook with a cast-iron skillet,” the guest said.
Shenoy had a ready response.
“Yes, well I’m not Rachael Ray,” she said. “I am Leena Shenoy and I don’t cook with EVOO [extra virgin olive oil] either,” and the crowd erupted in laughter.
This is yet another cooking class where no one leaves hungry. After the demonstration was over and the sampling finished, the class stepped up to the buffet to partake in a variety of dishes served at the restaurant.
Passage to India is located at 525 S. Front St., Harrisburg. To learn more about upcoming classes, visit www.passagetoindiaharrisburgpa.com.
Chef Bill Collier is nothing if not ambitious, taking on a crowd of 12 amateur cooks on a recent Saturday for a three-hour, hands-on pasta-making session that included about half-a-dozen types of pasta and as many dishes.
Collier, who has been working at Bricco for more than eight years, made it look easy as he demonstrated the various techniques involved in making the perfect pasta.
Participants were divided into groups of three, and each took a turn at the machine to crank out long sheets of pasta, which, in the end, would be transformed into pappardelle, cavatini, fettucine, garganelli, tortellini and ravioli.
Reminiscent of “Iron Chef,” minus the urgency, the group was instructed to “raid” the pantry and use their collective imagination to create unique dishes that would pair well with the pasta that they were assigned.
Cooks chose ingredients like black garlic, fiddlehead ferns, braised lamb, roasted spring onions, morel mushrooms, fresh sage and fist-sized scallions, to name just a few. Each then spent time at their respective stations chopping, mincing and slicing before following Collier into the kitchen to watch him transform the ingredients into a variety of dishes. These included cavatini with peas and lamb ragu and ravioli stuffed with mascarpone, sweet potatoes and brown sugar, topped with amaretto cookie crumbs. Afterwards, everyone reconvened in the adjacent dining room to take part in a carb feast fit for a king.
The effort and skill it took to make the various types of pasta was not lost on Jo Davidson who worked on the lamb cavatini dish with her husband Brad.
“I have more of an appreciation for eating pasta now,” said the Elizabethtown resident.
Bricco is located at 31 S. 3rd St., Harrisburg. To learn more about upcoming classes, visit www.briccopa.com.